I feel grinchy, but more and more these days, it feels like we're trying to raise a nation of citizens suited best for hand-to-hand combat, or plowing fields without machinery, or running the Pony Express without the ponies. I don't know the numbers, but it seems like even our colleges and universities are more likely to award "scholarships" based on athletic ability than on scholastic ability. Really, folks, let's call these "athletiships" and at least be honest about it.
In our local paper (and in most local papers that I've seen), the sports section is at least as large as the national and international news, if not larger. Tyler Teenager, awarded a minor football scholarship to a junior college, gets a huge photo and more inches of column space than some major national piece of legislation that will effect our lives for decades. The public school systems rush to cancel arts and music programs when times get tough, but they sure don't seem to consider sports programs for any meaningful cuts.
I understand that sports are fun. I understand that some kids do much better at sports than at academics. I understand that parents and community members like to socialize at sports' events and cheer their kids on. That said, school is supposed to prepare us for adult life, and I just don't see sports programs preparing today's students for much of anything but Sunday quarterbacking.
Seriously, in today's world the ability to catch a football or jump hurdles or wrestle an opponent to the ground and pin them DOESN'T TRANSLATE TO FUNCTIONAL ADULT SKILLS that will put food on the table, buy a house, or help a citizen decide which candidate is helping make our country stronger and which candidate is giving away the farm. It's these latter skills that the public school system is supposed to be helping our children be able to perform.
We're not going to do anything but spiral further down in the world economy when our community focus is more on training our children's bodies than on training our children's minds.
Personally, I think it's time to take all sports out of public schools and make them community intramural programs, funded by those who choose to participate. If the local taxpayers want to subsidize part of the expense or give "athletiships" to underprivileged kids, that's great. Otherwise, let's separate competitive sports from education and make realistic choices about where our money should be going.
Our schools need to return to being focused on academics, rounded out by basic gym classes, music classes, and art classes. Homework should not be dependent on whether the kids are tired because of sports' practice, but rather on the practice needed to learn the material deemed necessary. Standardized tests need to be minimized - a once a year per grade level, nationwide exam should be sufficient. (The key is that the community needs to be aware of the results, especially the trend of the results, and put pressure on the school board accordingly.) Results of standardized tests should be normed in some way, based on the number of special ed students that a school district is servicing who take the exams. A child with an IQ of 70 is not going to be able to function on a standardized exam at the same level as a child with an IQ within normal range, no matter how much extra tutoring or special teaching he/she receives. A school should not be penalized for serving a higher than normal proportion of children with lower academic "hardwiring."
It may be appropriate to award different levels of graduation certificates, ranging from whether a student showed up regularly and tried diligently to those that excelled in various ways. There are many jobs where simply showing up and performing reliably is more important than being able to memorize a periodic table. Employers might have a better chance of hiring suitable employees if they had a better way to evaluate their work ethic in this manner.
Let's be innovative and start teaching job skills at the high school level too. For those who are geniuses with their hands, in mechanical or artistic ways, for example, let's offer appropriate baseline education in those fields. All of us would do well with some basic mechanical knowledge, no matter what field we end up entering, just like those who become electricians or airline mechanics will benefit from basic history lessons as well. Graduation certifications could be tailored to show competency or excellence in those specific areas. Again, employers would reap the benefits of reliable information about the skills their entry-level employees were bringing to the table.
What initiated my rant tonight? The article in The Wichita Eagle on Friday about more than 15,000 K-State fans showing up in Arlington, Texas, for a rally the night before the Cotton Bowl. Now some of those may, admittedly, be K-State fans from the Dallas area - but I'd be willing to bet that the vast majority of those are fans from Kansas who left their jobs, traveled to Dallas, stayed in hotels, and attended the Cotton Bowl. No wonder kids think that sports are more important than academics! Can you imagine any other sort of event - a job fair, an academic competition, a cultural event - that would draw that sort of enthusiastic, committed turn-out? I'd be willing to bet that, for many "citizens," sports are more important than voting or political knowledge or community involvement or most other things that keep our country running, let alone academics. And we wonder why our country is beginning to fall behind and spiral down economically?
I said I was feeling grinchy. I know that the Cotton Bowl was a special time for K-State fans to have a good time, watch their team participate in a national event, and take a small break from their routine. But my point remains: this should have been an abnormal break, while the main focus in the day-to-day grind should be the important stuff. The stuff that helps our lives improve from year to year. Let's quit playing and start getting back to the real world, people.